Saturday, 27 October 2012

So Far So Good

Yesterday saw the Baggies complete 10 league fixtures under Steve Clarke and  the record reads

P10 W5 D2 L3 Pts 17

At the moment that is good enough for fifth position in the Premier League and represents the best start the club has made in the Premier League era.

With 10 games in charge it is possible to form an opinion on how the new Head Coach Steve Clarke is progressing at the Hawthorns. Tactically he is more adventurous than his predecessor his default formation is 4-2-3-1 with a lone striker being supported by three attacking midfielders who have license to join the attack because the midfield is anchored by two deep sitting midfielders. However out of possession it is very obvious that the side remains well drilled and you still see Hodgson's two banks of four form up moving in unison across the pitch.

Generally Clarke approaches games with a mindset that is positive and is trying to win games rather than trying not lose and whilst it might have backfired against Man City most fans will applaud this approach. He does try to influence the course of games by making tactical substitutions the most frequent being the in game rotation of Long and Lukaku in the lone striker role. Some fans have questioned this tactic particularly when the substitute has failed to have an impact in the game but the
lone striker role is probably the most physically demanding on the pitch and being able to bring a fresh pair of legs on after about sixty minutes not only freshens up the side but also protects the main striker (Long in this case) from burn out.

Since his appointment in June Clarke has gone about his task with quiet authority although he has  yet to be tested in real adversity. The slight downturn of  back to back defeats bought a little bit of pressure to do well against Southampton but such are the expectations at the Hawthorns it is hardly a crisis.

The start to Clarke's reign has undoubtedly been bright and he has very few detractors amongst the Baggies faithful. The question now is can he sustain it for the next 10 games and beyond? At the start  the season I thought that he could guide us to a mid-table finish and I have not changed my view, anything better will be a huge achievement. The fact that we currently sit fifth in the table does not flatter the team across the 10 games there have been no points gained from performances that did not deserve them and it might be argued that we were a little unlucky not to return from Newcastle with at least a point.

However and this is something no coach will thank you for mentioning but to maintain the current position and certainly to push beyond it Clarke needs to get lucky. The one piece of luck Clarke needs above all else is for the core of his team to stay injury free particularly when the influential Mulmbu is away on international duty during January.

Although he has had to contend with some injury and suspension problems during the opening 10 games he has had the luxury of being able pick a team with a settled spine of Foster, McAuley, Olsson, Mulumbu, Yacob and Morrison who have been virtually ever present thus far.To my mind this is the engine room of Clarke's team and when I see these names on the team sheet I know we will compete and stay in games even if we do not have the ability to dominate play. Whilst I think we can sustain the loss of one of these players we would be greatly diminished by the loss of two of them.

So far so good for Steve Clarke, too many pundits condemned Albion to a relegation struggle on the back of his appointment, to date he has proved his detractors wrong and long may he continue to confound them.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

They Don't Throw Bananas Anymore

Thirty-seven years ago, Laurie Cunningham stepped onto the Hawthorns pitch for the first time and endured ninety minutes of racial abuse from the massed ranks on the Brummie Road terrace. He was playing for Orient, and roughly twelve months later he joined Albion. This might seem strange, given his earlier treatment by the club's supporters, but the reception he got at the Hawthorns was regrettably par for the course for a black player in England back in the 1970's and 1980's.

Cunningham joined the Baggies and was quickly followed by Regis and Batson. The racist chants on the Brummie Road stopped, because even the dumbest knuckle-dragger on the face of the planet understands that you cannot chant racial abuse at the opposition's black players without insulting your own black players. Large-scale racial abuse, as witnessed last week in Serbia, died out in England -- not because English fans became more enlightened, but because most teams employed black players. Their fans were confronted by the same contradiction that the Albion fans had faced when Cunningham arrived at the club. Society has also moved on, and terms that I grew up with are no longer acceptable. Fans have also become more enlightened, and maybe one of the first steps on that journey was accepting black players at the football clubs they supported.

At some point, racial abuse of black players became a line which fans understood should not be crossed, and today, it comes from the odd individual or John Terry. Back in the 1980's, as football slowly responded to the problem of racial abuse, the apologists for the fans' and players' behaviour used the now well-established, but somewhat tarnished, 'banter defence': "Yes, the words are rude and insulting, but they are in jest; we mean nothing by it," and, in the case of the players, they point to the post-match handshakes, so all's well that ends well. Frankly, it sounded pathetic at the time, and with thirty years of hindsight, it is sickeningly complacent.

Thirty years on, and the banter defence is deployed to justify tit-for-tat chanting between fans at Sheffield and Liverpool over incidents that involve the tragic loss of life, rape, and child abuse. Sorry, that is not banter; it is sick, and no less sick than racially abusing a black player. It is time to draw a new line, as far as fan and player behaviour goes.

Football's problem is that clubs have siege mentalities -- us against the world -- and too often are swift to condemn the actions of rival fans and players without acknowledging, let alone condemning, their own fans' and players' shortcomings. The game's leaders need to make a stand, not just condemning the opposition, but their own fans -- a braver course of action. Warnock had a stab at it following the incidents at Sheffield, but, being Warnock, blew it with a throwaway remark about Kirkland going down like a ton of bricks. Martin O'Neill's condemnation of Sunderland supporters' chants concerning Steven Taylor was much less unequivocal, and O'Neill deserves credit for that.

Equally, when players transgress, the clubs need to look beyond their immediate self-interest and not try to defend the indefensible. Liverpool's response to the Suarez incident was lamentable, and Chelsea's rank cowardice in not stripping Terry of the captaincy sent mixed messages to fans and players. Put simply, if I were to racially abuse a customer or colleague at work, I would be out of a job, and I would not enjoy the support of my employer if criminal proceedings were bought. In truth, nor would a youth team player at either club, who would be hung out to dry for a similar offence. The message is clear: Suarez and Terry are a little bit too important to their respective clubs to be challenged when they step over the line. That is why the FA need to be steadfast in their approach with regard to player discipline, because too often clubs fail to stand up to the star players.

Fans need to take a long, hard look at themselves and try to understand how witty they would find a chant about their own loved ones who had died in tragic circumstances or had been sexually abused. It is a question of your dignity as a human being: How far are you prepared to let yourself be dragged into the sewer by the tribalism of football? Think about that, and just don't join in; nobody makes you. If fans persist, then the authorities should take action. A couple of Man United v Liverpool games behind closed doors might bring a few fans to their senses.

I have an ongoing love affair with football, but there are times when the passion spills over into something ugly, making me more than a little uncomfortable. I understand the keen rivalry between clubs, particularly local derbies with decades of history, but when that turns into naked hatred, we all need to pull back from the brink.
  

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Compare and Contrast

QPR, here is the defender you should have signed
Yesterday Albion met QPR at the Hawthorns. Both clubs harbour similar ambitions for the season and would be pleased with a comfortable mid-table finish although the two clubs approach to the challenge could not be further apart.
 
QPR have been bankrolled by a series of wealthy owners and are now owned by Tony Fernandes and the Mittal family. Since promotion QPR have bought in high profile players on high wages and an equally high profile manager in Mark Hughes.
 
By contrast Albion have built gradually and in the absence of a sugar daddy have managed within their relatively modest means. The contrast in approach is embodied by Gareth McAuley and Anton Ferdinand both signed in summer 2011 to strenghten their respective sides back lines. McAuley was picked up by Albion on a free transfer having not played in the premier league. Ferdinand joined QPR from Sunderland for £1m ending a largely forgettable stay on Wearside where he failed to live up to an £8m price tag after moving from West Ham. McAuley's league career started late and was plying his trade at Leicester in the Championship when Ferdinand was making his big money move to Sunderland.  
 
McAuley's arrival at the Hawthorns was largely unheralded  and there were envious glances at other centre halves that moved that summer including Dann, Johnson and Ferdinand himself, however in the last twelve months McAuley has established himself as a no nonsense does what it says on the tin centre back. Ferdinand on the other hand has continued his patchy form which saw him depart from Sunderland and yesterday he looked like a very average player.
 
QPR's wage bill is certainly higher than the Baggies and whether the disjointed performance that they put in at the Hawthorns is a consequence of  the changes they made over the summer or a more fundamental malaise only time will tell, but the whole enterprise looks like it's been built on sand. They have bought players who in many cases not lived up to early promise Zamorra, Wright-Phillips and Ferdinand or players who have been at the very top of the profession but are now on their way down like Bosingwa and  Ji-Sung who might not be as motivated by a relegation scrap as being in contention for trophies and titles.

Albion simply could not afford those players wages and by necessity focus on the unsung gems unearthed by an extensive scouting network. The players either regard playing for the club as a stepping stone to greater things or the peak of their achievement in the game. At the moment the Albion way is working and we have opened up a 12 point gap between the more celebrated players from west London it might be a false position and QPR may yet come good but yesterday there were times when the two teams looked worlds apart but not in a way Tony Fernandes would have hoped for when he appointed Mark Hughes and sanctioned the overhaul of the playing staff.

Hughes will not be sacked in the morning despite the gleeful taunts of the Baggies fans  but Fernandes is entitled to ask what he is getting for the money that he has pumped into the club. Or is he? Importing Hughes as a quick fix and throwing money at players does not build a team nor a club maybe the mess he has got is exactly what he paid for, all the money in the world does not give you the wisdom to spend it wisely.

Albion have achieved what they have by investing long term in the infrastucrure of the club by not indulging managers nor fans with short term fixes doing the best the club can with the resources available. It has not always been popular but there is continuity and a plan which is now paying divdends.  Fernandes must stick by Hughes and focus on building long term and hope that they muddle through, but having bet the house on staying in the division one does wonder what relegation would mean for the club and unless they tighten up as a team that is a real danger.

Friday, 7 September 2012

The Long and Winding Road to Here

 
Three games into the Premier League campaign and whisper it quietly so not to tempt fate but West Bromwich Albion look like an established Premier League team not just a Championship team on a short lived trip from the lower reaches of the football pyramid. How did that happen?  It is a long and often winding road which I have travelled with my club.
 
The question is where did the revival start?  Oddly enough with a funeral of sorts. A poor end to the 1991/92 season saw the club finish seventh in the third tier of English football it's lowest ever position and the fans disgruntlement with manager Bobby Gould spilled over during the final day of the season visit to Gay Meadow and a coffin was passed around the away fans. That was undoubtedly the low point shortly after that Gould was gone and somehow the Baggies managed to snare Ossie Ardelies as manager. That was just over twenty years ago. The revival has had several phases and it has not all been plain sailing

Ossie is on his way Wembley  (1992-1993)

After the gloom and doom of the Gould years Ossie's arrival as manger sparked an immediate revival and more importantly a return to passing football. Ardelies style has always been attacking bordering on the kamikaze his attitude seemed its okay if the opposition scored 3 because his side would score 4. Unfortunately the records show that happened sometimes but equally there were times when the opposition would score 5 and as a consequence the Albion had to get out of the Division the hard way through the play-offs. An epic semi-final encounter followed with Swansea which saw Albion make the play-off final where they swept aside Port Vale in front of the travelling hordes of happy Baggies. We had lift off. As ever with the Baggies there was caveat, barely had we finished the play-off celebrations and Ossie was on his way to Spurs.

Division One Purgatory (1993 to 2001)

Unfortunately Ardelies's departure set the tone for the rest of the 1990's every time we looked like breaking out of the bottom half of Division One we would lose either our manager or have our best players sold. It was a period of financial struggle the club were saddled with the huge redevelopment costs of a somewhat run down stadium and  progress on the pitch was virtually non existent.
During these years we required two last day wins to stay in the division against Portsmouth and Charlton and for most of the time we looked much more likely to be relegated than promoted. 
 
Off the pitch there was no clear strategy and precious little continuity. The board always seemed to be in a state of flux as various parties struggled for control of the club which by the middle of the decade had been floated as a PLC with an initial market value of about £7m (i.e. less than 12 months wages for Wayne Rooney) .Towards the end of the era there there was an epic boardroom battle and the end of which Paul Thompson emerged as Chairman. At the time I was so used to a club that had elevated mediocrity into an art form and I was more than a bit cynical about Thompson's fine words on taking over at the Hawthorns.
 
However things changed. Thompson took action when we slid into yet to another relegation battle towards the end of the 1999/2000 season he not only fired the inept Brian Little and hired Gary Megson he also reinforced the team with some signings. The summer of 2000 saw developments at the club pick up pace. Although Lee Hughes was sold to Coventry the club reinvested a substantial part of the fee with a club record fee being paid for Jason Roberts. That season saw Albion's highest league finish in over a decade sixth place unfortunately losing to Bolton in the play-offs.    
 
Off the pitch the club started to move forward the new East Stand was commissioned and we bought our current training ground having sold our previous one some time earlier to raise much needed funds. 
 
At the start of the 2001/2002 the club had real forward momentum for the first time in nearly a decade Megson's side ground out results  relentlessly chasing down the Wolves to secure the 2nd promotion spot with a glorious win against Crystal Palace on the final day. 

 The Yo Yo Years (2002 to 2010)

 The new era did not start smoothly. A major row developed between Megson and Thompson over amongst other things the introduction a systematic approach to player recruitment (sound familiar?)  and Thompson quit. This outcome is not the normal one when there is a falling out between manager and chairman at a football club but such was Megson's popularity that Thompson decided to relinquish his post rather than fire the truculent Megson. Cue more boardroom squabbling before Jeremy Peace emerged as the new Chairman in part because of his support for Megson as manager.
 
In summary the Yo-Yo years went like this
 
2002 - 2003 Relegation
2003 - 2004 Promotion
2004 - 2005 Survival Megson fired Robson hired
2005 - 2006 Relegation
2006 - 2007 Play off final Robson fired Mowbray hired
2007 - 2008 Promotion cup semi final
2008 - 2009 Relegation Mowbray resigns
2009 - 2010 Promotion Di Matteo hired
 
The club made mistakes and the lows nearly outweigh the highs but throughout the period progress was being made and the club rarely looked like it was ever going back to the bad old days of the 1990's. Critically there was boardroom stability, whilst not to everyone's liking at least Peace had a plan.
 
The turning point for me was the firing of Robson and the hiring of Mowbray which marked the beginning of the Football Director model which was first suggested by Thompson and was the catalyst for the row which lead to his resignation, however that still failed to deliver the goods and the fans endured another relegation under Mowbray.  At some point there was a eureka moment at the club and a strategy to focus the resources on players wages rather than fees emerged. This allied to a now excellent scouting network was about to make a step change in the club's prospects 
 
The summer of 2010 saw the club assemble the strongest squad in the Premier League era the Yo-Yo years were about to end.  

We Are Albion and We are Premier League (2010 to date) 

As new era's go the 6:0 thrashing at the hands of Chelsea on the opening day of the 2010 - 2011 season was not particularly auspicious. However results during the first few months of that season were encouraging and until the end of November things looked rosy. A dramatic slump in form saw Di-Matteo replaced with Hodgson in February 2011.
 
This was different in earlier relegation seasons the club accepted their fate partly because it was acknowledged that the squad the manager was working with was inadequate. Not this time Peace wielded the axe and Hodgson guided the same squad to a comfortable 11th place finish.
 
Last year we did it again not only staying in the Division but matching the previous year's points total and finishing tenth.Then the sky fell in and Hodgson left,  no it didn't Hodgson left which was a blow that in previous years would have set us back, but not now we are in a different era. Albion just appointed a new Head Coach strengthened the squad and carried on without much drama. Just like you would expect from a well run established Premier League club, rather than some fly by night upstart that sneaked into the rich man's club while nobody was looking.
 
This is not to say our current elevated status should be taken for granted those fans old enough to remember the dark days before the long dawn will never do that, but I think our foundations are solid enough to suggest we might stick around the Premier League for the a few more years.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Crystal Balls out Football is Back

On the eve of the big kick-off  I have decided do a Mystic Meg and predict the outcome of next season, which can only make me look like an idiot come May although it might not take that long cue Southampton beating Man City and two of my predictions start to look a bit suspect. Predicting the outcome of a competition that is an 11 a side team game run over 10 months and 760 fixtures should be difficult add in the fact that it is a ball game played on grass through an English winter and it should be virtually impossible. Indeed if the teams were evenly matched it would be impossible to predict unfortunately they are not.

The Premier League is a series of leagues within a league there are 3 maybe 4 genuine title contenders there are maybe another 2 or 3 teams who some realistic hopes of a top 4 finish. Then there is the rest most of whom are not so strong as to have banished the spectre of relegation and many will feel its chill presence during the course of the winter and most will only be safe from it's fearful clutches until after the clocks have returned to British Summer Time. So here goes with my club by club analysis followed by tips for the season ahead


Arsenal

Manager Arsene Wenger
Last Year after a poor start including an 8:2 mauling by Man United Arsenal rallied to finish a creditable 3rd, however this was only achieved because of a Spurs blow up (see below) and the absolute outstanding form of Robin Van Persie which compensated for many of the deficiencies elsewhere in the side.
Transfer Activity 
signed  Lukas Podoloski (Cologne) Olivier Giroud (Montpelier) Santi Cazorla (Malaga)
sold / released Manuel Almunia (Watford), Gavin Hoyte (released)  Ryo Miyaichi (Wigan loan) Robin Van Persie (Man United) Kyle Bartley (Swansea)
Prospects
Speculation over Van Persie' s future has overshadowed some astute business and whilst the much anticipated return of Jack Wilshere has been delayed to October there is plenty to suggest that all is not doom and gloom at the Emirates. That said losing Song to Barcelona would be a blow although a replacement in Yann M'Vila is apparently lined up
Arsenal might not mount a sustained title challenge but I would be surprised if they are not in the top four at the end of the season. That said their new strikers Giroud and Podoloski need to settle quickly and maybe more than some of the other top teams Arsenal need their key players such as Arteta and Vermaelen to stay fit for the bulk of the season. Even without Van Persie the squad has far too much quality to finish below 6th
Where they will finish 3rd to 6th

Aston Villa

Manager Paul Lambert
Last Year  Towards the end of last season they were in free fall whilst some of the malaise could be put down to the untimely absence of key players through injury and illness too many of those that did play put in too many substandard performances.
Transfer Activity
signed  Brett Holman (AZ Alkmaar)  Karim El Ahmadi (Feyenoord) Matthew Lowton (Sheffield United) Ron Vlaar (Feyenoord)
sold / released Emile Heskey (released), Carlos Cuellar (Sunderland), Brad Guzan (released) James Collins(West Ham)
Prospects
There is a somewhat glib view of Aston Villa that last season's woes were down to the appointment of Alex McLeish having got rid of him everything is set fair at Villa Park, things may not be that straight forward. Whilst the return to fitness of Darren Bent will be a welcome boost to new coach Paul Lambert he still needs to coax the full potential out of N'Zogbia and Agbonlahor on a consistent basis if Villa are to improve significantly on last year's dire showing.
The additions that Lambert has made to the squad are solid rather than eye-catching, El-Ahmadi will add a bit of steel to a lightweight midfield and Ron Vlaar is certainly an upgrade on James Collins. The activity would suggest that the club is looking to live within its means and retrench in mid table which provided Bent is fit and firing that will be the outcome. However if things go awry the new manager might find himself in a relegation scrap with a squad whose self belief looked brittle last year when their season started to unravel
Where they will finish 10th to 18th

Chelsea

Manager Roberto Di Matteo
Last Year Chelsea were having a forgettable season under AVB but it turned into a remarkable one following his dismissal which ended in twin triumphs in the Champions League and FA Cup finals. The stunning last few months of the campaign got interim manager Roberto Di Matteo the hottest hot seat in English football on a permanent basis that's if any Chelsea manager can be regarded as permanent.
Transfer Activity
signed Marko Marin (Werder Bremen), Eden Hazard (Lille) Thorgan Hazard (Lens) Oscar (Internacional)
sold / released Didier Drogba (Shanghai Shenhua), Salomon Kalou (Lille) Kevin de Bruyne (Werder Bremen loan) Romelu Lukaku  (WBA loan) Jose Bosingwa (released), Thibaut Courtois (Atletico Madrid, loan)
Prospects
Looking at at the season ahead there are is a golden scenario, the remaining players from the Muhriono era have a glorious swansong Torres finds his shooting boots and the new arrivals bed in quickly. If this happens Chelsea could emerge as genuine title contenders however if more than one of these things fails to materialise Chelsea might struggle to make the top four. 
Chelsea's summer splurge in the transfer market has given Di Matteo a few selection headaches. He now has an abundance of attacking midfielders and wingers and how he integrates the dizzy array of talent at his disposal without losing the solidity that characterised his spell as interim boss will be key to how well Chelsea do this term. 
Where they will finish 1 to 5

Everton

Manager David Moyes
Last Year Par for the club finished a comfortable 7th and had a good run the FA cup run which ended in a hugely disappointing defeat to Liverpool in the semi final.
Transfers Activity
signed Steven Naismith (Rangers) Steven Pienaar(Spurs)
Sold / released Apredam Forshaw (Brentford), James McFadden (released), Marcus Hahnemann (released) Tim Cahill (New York Red Bulls) Joseph Yobo (Fenerbahce) Jack Rodwell (Man City)
Prospects
Too strong and well organised to seriously be in danger of relegation but not strong enough to mount a serious challenge for a Champions League place. Last January's capture of Jelavic has provided the fire power to ensure that they will probably finish in the top half of the league and could be strong contenders in both cup competitions. 
As ever Moyes has limited scope in the transfer market but the sale of Cahill has freed up resources so has been able to sign Pienaar and Naismith.It remains to be seen if the fee they recieve for Jack Rodwell will used to strengthen the squad or Everton's flimsy balance sheet.
Where they will finish 6th to 10th

Fulham

Manager Martin Jol
Last Year A strong finish to a season that started in June saw Fulham finish a creditable 9th.
Transfer Activity
signed  Mladen Petric (Hamburg) Sascha Riether (Cologne Loan) Hugo Rodallega (Wigan) George Williams (MK Dons)
sold / released Andrew Johnson (QPR) Danny Murphy (Blackburn) Dickson Etuhu (Blackburn)Bjorn Helge Riise (released), Orlando Sa (released)
Prospects
A new Fulham is starting to emerge under the stewardship of Martin Jol many of the team's regulars have moved on Johnson and Murphy following Zamora. They have some exciting talent in Dembele,  and Ruiz. However it now seems unlikely the influential Clint Dempsey who was central to their success last year will be a Fulham player for much longer which is a real setback 
The failure to sign Pavel Pogrebnyak after a successful loan stint last year might leave them short of a goal scorer however the signing of Rodallega and Petric might fill the gap and providing they do Fulham can look forward to a successful season.
Where they will finish 9th to 15th

Liverpool

Manager Brendan Rodgers
Last Year Two cup finals including a win in the League Cup were not enough to compensate for Liverpool's lowest league finish in the best part of 20 years with their home form looking particularly suspect.
Transfers Activity
signed Fabio Borini (Roma) Joe Allen (Swansea) Oussama Assaidi (Heerenveen)
sold / released Dirk Kuyt (Fenerbache), Fabio Aurelio (Gremio, free), David Amoo (Preston North End, free) Maxi Rodriguez (Newell's Old Boys)  Alberto Aquilani (Fiorentina) Craig Bellamy (Cardiff)
Prospects
Being Liverpool coach is starting to look like one of the tougher jobs in English football. Here is the catch 22 situation. To be able to pay the wages demanded by the top players Liverpool need to qualify for the Champions League, however to qualify for the Champions League they need to attract top players. Brendan Rodgers needs to attain a fourth place finish with a squad that might be the sixth best in the league. It is far from a hopeless cause because they are certainly not that far behind Arsenal and Spurs but they are light years behind Chelsea and the two Manchester Clubs.
Despite the Dalglish/ Comolli spending spree Rodgers has continued to spend heavily to restructure the squad he has moved on a number of players including the expensive misfit Aquilani. The overall impact is that the new manager does have a squad with talented players but it lacks the depth to fight on a number of fronts.If he can revive Cole's Anfield career nurse Gerrard through 20 plus league appearances and find a consistent source of goals then providing the league is almost the club's sole focus fourth spot is within their reach. Extended adventures in any of the cup competitions might spread the club's limited resources too thinly,
Where they will finish 4th to 9th

Manchester City

Manager Roberto Mancini
Last Year Secured their first title in the Premier League era in the most dramatic fashion. At one stage it looked like they would cruise to the title with a month to spare however the season was nearly derailed by the off field soap opera that surrounded Tevez and the none stop comedy review otherwise known as Mario Balloteli.
Transfers Activity
signed Jack Rodwell (Everton)
sold / released Owen Hargresaves (Released) Wayne Bridge (Brighton loan) Vladimir Weiss (Pescara)
Prospects
The blue moon will continue to rise given the almost limitless resources City are able to deploy with only the prospect the Financial Fair Play regulations keeping the monster in check.
Winning the title last year showed that Mancini has the skills to mould a disparate bunch of footballing mercenaries into an effective unit and winning will reinforce the team's belief.
Whilst City have been remarkably quiet in the transfer market (they need to lose one or two expensive misfits that are still hanging around on huge wages) this summer there is no obvious weaknesses in their squad and it is plenty strong enough to retain the title. It is only the desire to have a real tilt at the Champions League that requires them to strengthen at all.
Where they will finish 1 to 4

Manchester United

Manager Sir Alex Ferguson 
Last Year Failed to retain the title at the death despite amassing 89 points which would have been enough to secure the title in most seasons. A rare season devoid of silverware and marred by an early exit in the Champions League.
Transfer Activity
signed Nick Powell (Crewe), Shinji Kagawa (Dortmund) Robin van Persic (Arsenal)
sold / released Tomasz Kuszczak (Brighton), Michael Owen (released), Richie De Laet (Leicester), Matty James (Leicester) Fabio Da Silva (QPR loan) Park Ji-Sung (QPR), Paul Pogba (Juventus)
Prospects
Will this season be the Scholes and Giggs final swansong and will it end on a high note? I'm not sure. The addition of Van Persie and Kagawa further strengthens a group of young players including Smalling Jones Wellbeck and Cleverly who have yet to reach their peak and therefore United can improve on last year's showing. However Darren Fletcher's continued absence from the midfield does leave a gap and at the back Ferdinand and Vidic were once an imperious combination however age and injury are starting to catch up with them.
Despite the question marks it would be unwise to discount United's title chances entirely and it is difficult to imagine that they would finish outside the top four
   
Where they will finish 1 to 4

Newcastle United

Manager Alan Pardew
Last Year "Hard to see them improving on last years finish, have to be wary of second season syndrome. Will struggle without a 20 goal a season striker, a relegation battle could be a consequence." Was not untypical of the previews from last year following the sale of Nolan, Barton and Enrique. Ten months on a 6th place finish and Newcastle find themselves back in Europe for the first time since 2006/2007 and the pundits all look a bit shame faced
Transfers Activity
signed Romain Amalfitano (Reims) Gael Bigirimana (Coventry) Curtis Good (Melbourne Heart) Vurnon Anita (Ajax)
sold / released Danny Guthrie (Reading) Leon Best (Blackburn) Fraser Forster (Celtic) Peter Lovenkrands (Birmingham), Alan Smith (MK Dons)
Prospects  
Facing a Europa league campaign which will stretch their squad Newcastle might do well to match last season's finish. However they continue to pick up bright young talent and will be one of the more enterprising teams in the division and provided the core of the team stays fit should finish in the top half of the league and might just push for a Champions League spot.
The Ba and Cisse combination up front will again be critical to Newcastle's chances however with such a potent strike force it is difficult to see them finishing out of the top half of the division.
Where they will finish 4th to 9th

Norwich City 

Manager Chris Hughton
Last Year Started the year as many pundits tip for relegation however never looked like struggling despite limited investment in the squad that had  gained promotion and finished 11th.
Transfers Activity
signed Steven Whittaker (Rangers) Michael Turner (Sunderland) Jacob Butterfield (Barnsley) Robert Snodgrass (Leeds)
sold / released Zak Whitbread (Leicester City), Aaron Wilbraham (Crystal Palace), Josh Dawkin (released), Adam Drury (Leeds) Andrew Crofts (Brighton) Daniel Ayala (Nottingham Forest loan)
Prospects
It will be hard for the team to emulate last season's success. Last years squad has by and large been retained and they have raided the Championship for reinforcements. It will be interesting how Snodgrass and Butterfield perform at a higher level.
Chris Hughton's first priority is to address the issue of a defence that leaked too many goals last year and whilst the addition of Whittaker and Turner should improve the back line Hughton will be keen to be better organised and disciplined as a team. If the new coach is able to improve their defencive record then Norwich could defy the tipsters for another season but if he is unable to do so they will struggle.
Where they will finish 12th to 20th

Queens Park Rangers 

Manager Mark Hughes
Last Year Stayed up in the most dramatic of circumstances on the final day of the season. The season saw the replacement of Warnock with Hughes and a desperate supermarket dash in the January transfer window yet the club still only managed to survive by the skin of their teeth and probably in no small part due to the ineptitude of others
Transfers Activity
signed Robert Green (West Ham) Ryan Nelsen (Tottenham), Andrew Johnson (Fulham) Samba Diakite (Nancy) Fabio Da Silva (Man United loan) Park Ji-sung (Man United) Junior Hoilet (Blackburn Rovers)
sold / released Peter Ramage (released), Danny Gabbidon (released), Danny Shittu (Millwall), Fitz Hall (Watford), Gary Borrowdale (released), Lee Cook (released), Rowan Vine (St Johnstone), Patrick Agyemang (released) Akos Buzsaky (released) Heidar Helguson (Cardiff)
Prospects
Following their final day survival Mark Hughes said "This club will never be in this situation again while am connected with the club"If throwing money at a team guarantees anything in football then he will be right. Unfortunately for QPR it only guarantees wealthier footballers and agents, however there is no harm in trying, cue mass clear out of journeymen pro's from QPR's Championship days enter a host of players with Premier League experience and biggish reputations, although one or two of their reputations have been built on outstanding seasons that younger readers might struggle to recall. 
Joey Barton last summer's marque signing will be banned for the opening 12 games but given the signing of Diakte and Ji-Sung is unlikely to be missed. The bigger concern for QPR's manager is a leaky defence, last season only the three relegated teams had worse defencive records and unless Rangers tighten up at the back they could struggle despite their owner's heavy investment.
Where they will finish 10th to 18th

Reading

Manager Brian McDermit 
Last Year Promoted as Champions from the Championship which is was a remarkable achievement following the previous season's loss in the play off final
Transfers Activity
signed Garath McCleary (Nottingham Forest) Danny Guthrie(Newcastle United) Pavel Pogrebnyak (Stuttgart) Nicky Shorey (WBA) Adrian Mariappa (Watford)
sold / released Brian Howard (released),Tomasz Cywka (released), Andy Griffin (released), Jack Mills (released)
Prospects
Reading have have added significantly to the squad that won the championship last year. If Pogrebnyk can reproduce the form he showed at Fulham last year his goals alone might be the difference between staying up and a swift return to the championship. Last season's triumph was based on a miserly defence however it remains to be seen if they can be as effective at a higher level with just the addition of Mariappa and Shorey.
Where they will finish 15th to 20th 

Southampton

Manager Nigel Adkins
Last Year Completed are remarkable recovery from being in administration and relegated to Division 1 with a second successive automatic promotion as runners up to Reading
Transfers Activity
signed Jay Rodriguez (Burnley) Steven Davis (Rangers),Paulo Gazzaniga(Gillingham) Nathan Clyne (Crystal Palace)
sold / released David Connolly (released), Bartosz Bialkowski (Notts County), Lee Holmes (Preston North End), Ryan Doble (released), Aaron Martin (Crystal Palace, loan) Dan Harding (Notts Forest)
Propspects
As ever with a newly promoted club there is a question mark as to whether or not they will be able to bridge the gap. Southampton have been busy in the transfer market but have not yet signed anyone with a proven Premier League track record aside from Steven Davis.
Much will hinge on how well their strike force of Lambert Rodriguez and Sharpe fare against the tougher defences they will encounter in the Premier League. Similar questions were being asked of Norwich's front men last year and if the outcome is the same Southampton will survive.
Where they will finish 15th to 20th 

Stoke City

Manager Tony Pulis
Last Year A mixed season which included qualifying for the knock out stages of the Europa League but maybe that effort caught up with the players and their form dipped alarming in the closing stages of the season
Transfers Activity
signed Michael Kightly (Wolves) Geoff Cameron (Houston Dynamo) Jamie Ness (Rangers)
sold / released Andrew Davies (Bradford) Jonathan Woodgate (M'boro) Danny Collins (Nottingham Forest) Tom Soares (Released) Ricardo Fuller (Released) Salif Diao (Released)
Prospects
Without the distraction of the Europa league most observers expect City to improve on their form of last season. If the fall off was due purely due to their European adventure then it is not unreasonable to expect the Potters to finish around 10th, however if the rest of the Division has worked out how to cope with  their brand of football then they might struggle. There is no plan B at the Britannia if brute force does not succeed then try more brute force and providing a team has some big and strong players even if it means playing another centre back it can be countered. A further concern for Tony Pulis is aside from Crouch the team carries very little by the way of goal scoring threat.
Where they will finish 10th to 18th 

Sunderland

Manager Martin  O'Neil
Last Year A poor start to the season saw Steve Bruce  replaced by Martin O'Neil. Following O'Neil's appointment results improved but tailed off again towards the end of the season.
Transfers Activity
signed Carlos Cuellar (Aston Villa) Louis Saha (Spurs)
sold / released Craig Gordon (released), Jordan Cook (released) Asamoah Gyan (Al-Ain) Michael Turner (Norwich) George McCartney (West Ham)
Prospects
The team should be capable of a mid table finish but aside from a honeymoon period after O'Neil's appointment last year's showing was pretty mediocre. There would seem to be one major issue at the Stadium of Light and that is the lack of a proven goal scorer since the departure of Darren Bent. Campbell's return to fitness and the arrival of Saha might go some way to addressing the problem but further strengthening is required and at the time of writing the Weasiders are pursuing a number of options. Providing they can add some more fire power in front of an obdurate defence Sunderland should have no major concerns about relegation but equally finishing much higher 10th would seem beyond them. 
Where they will finish 10th to 17th 

Swansea City

Manager Micheal Laudrup
Last Year Finished 11th to defy predictions of relegation and gained many plaudits along the way for their passing football
Transfers Activity
signed Jose Manuel Flores (Genoa) Jonathan de Guzman(Villarreal) Michu (Rayo Vallecano) Itay Shechter (Kaiserslautern)  Kyle Bartley (Arsenal)
sold / released Joe Allen (Liverpool)
Prospects
Swansea face a tough season under their new coach Micheal Laudrup. Having played with remarkable freedom last year the team will now be under greater pressure to meet heightened expectations and opposition coaches will approach their fixtures with Swansea with a little bit more caution and game plans designed to negate their free flowing football.
The loss of  Allen and Sigurdsson are obvious blows to the side that looked so effective last year and it remains to be seen how Swansea cope without 2 of their most talented players. Laudrup has turned to the Spanish market to reinforce his side and much will depend on how the new recruits particularly Michu adapt to the Premier League.
Where they will finish 12th to 19th

Tottenham Hotspur

Manager Andre Villas Boas
Last Year Another season tinged with the thoughts of what might have been. Finishing 4th was ultimately disappointing particularly given that they were sitting comfortably in 3rd just 2 points off the lead in January and critically 10 points ahead of arch rivals Arsenal  who eventually pipped them for 3rd place and the much coveted champions league spot. Reached the FA Cup semi final only to be thrashed by Chelsea. Failure to get the season over the line eventually cost Redknapp his job
Transfers Activity
signed Gylfi Sigurdsson (Hoffenhiem) Jan Vertonghen (Ajax)
sold / released Niko Kranjcar (Dynamo Kiev), Ryan Nelsen (QPR, free), Louis Saha (Sunderland)
Vedran Corluka (Lokomotiv Moscow) Steven Pienaar (Everton)
Prospects
Villas-Boas might find the Spurs dressing room more receptive to his ideas than their Chelsea counterparts in that he inherits an attack minded team and the additions he has made to squad look good on paper, however how much the loss of Modric will impact Spurs progress remains to be seen and the current impasse on the Adebayor transfer leaves them very short of strikers. With the transfer window still open these issues can be addressed but the new signings will need to hit the ground running or Spurs could find themselves too far back in the chasing pack to make a serious bid for a Champions League spot.
Where they will finish 3rd to 8th 

West Bromwich Albion

Manager Steve Clarke 
Last Year Finished 10th which is the clubs highest league finish in the Premier League era despite stuttering home form which at times lead to brief flirtations with the relegation battle.
Transfers Activity
signed Ben Foster (Birmingham City) Yassine El Ghanassy (Gent loan) Claudio Yacob (Racing) Markus Rosenberg (Werder Bremen) Romelu Lukaku (Chelsea loan)
sold / released Nicky Shorey (Reading), Joe Mattock (Sheffield Wednesday), Somen Tchoyi (released) Keith Andrews (Bolton) Paul Scharner (Hamburg) Simon Cox (Notts Forest)
Prospects
New manager Steve Clarke has made some bullish statements about pushing his players to hit the 50 point mark this season and have a tilt at one of the domestic cups.Whilst there is no point in being anything other positive and setting players challenging goals the reality is the team's first priority is get to 40 points and everything else is a bonus.
The squad he inherited is the strongest and most experienced the club has had in the premier league era and the club has bolstered their forward line with the addition of Lukaku and Rosenberg. As with most of those teams in the bottom half of the division if the his first choice XI stay fit for the bulk of the season he can look forward to a solid mid table finish and maybe even push towards another record breaking season. Like Bolton last year problems will arise if Clarke has to rely on his second string because of long term injuries.
Where they will finish 10th to 17th

West Ham United

Manager Sam Alladyce 
Last Year Having kept the bulk of the relegated squad together West Ham were favourites to return to the top flight at the first attempt however they only achieved there aim through the play-off route
Transfer Activity
signed Jussi Jaaskelainen (Bolton), Stephen Henderson (Portsmouth), Mohamed Diame (Wigan) George McCartney (Sunderland) Modibo Maiga (Sochaux)  James Collins(Aston Villa) Alou Diarra (Marseille)
sold / released Robert Green (QPR), Julien Faubert (released), John Carew (released), Abdoulaye Faye (Hull), Papa Bouba Diop (released), Frank Nouble (Wolves) Freddie Sears (Colchester) Ravel Morrison (Birmingham City)
Prospects
Alladyce has assembled a workman like squad at Upton Park it might not be pretty but it is going to be effective. A lot hinges on how prolific Cole, Vaz Te and Maynard can be at a higher level and how quickly Maiga adapts to Premier League if they fail to fire it could be a tough season for the Hammers. However Alladyce's teams are notoriously tough to beat so even if the strikers are not prolific the Hammers are likely to grind out enough points to survive.
Where they will finish 12th to 18th

Wigan Athletic


Manager Roberto Martinez


Last Year For much of the season Wigan looked like relegation certainties only to spring back into life during the final third of the season. To put the turn around in context had they sustained their form of the last 12 games for the whole season they would have qualified for the champions league.
Transfers Activity
signed Fraser Fyvie(Aberdeen)  Ivan Ramis (Mallorca) Ryo Miyaichi (Arsenal Loan) Arouna Kone (Levante)
sold / released Chris Kirkland (Sheffield Wednesday), Mohamed Diame (West Ham) Rodallega (Fulham)
Prospects
Grim to okay. Another closed season sees departures of key players although Rodallega  and Diame hardly tore up trees last year but if  Moses is sold he would be be missed. However much the same has been written about Wigan almost since the day they were promoted to the Premier League in 2005 and somehow they keep managing to defy the odds. 
Critically; Roberto Martinez remains in charge at the JW and if he can inspire his charges to the level of performances achieved in the final two months of last year Wigan will not struggle but that is unlikely.
Where they will finish 15th to 20th

Tips

Champions Man City I don't buy the theory they will dominate English football for a generation I just think right now City look like a better option than either of their two closest rivals Chelsea or Man United both of whom could run them close.

FA Cup  Man United it is almost unheard of for United to go two consecutive seasons without silverware I suspect this United team is still improving and might not sustain a league title challenge but with a typically strong finish to the season they would be my tip for the FA Cup

League Cup Everton on their day are a match for most sides and are always difficult to beat which should stand them in good stead for having a decent cup run and maybe this time they will bag a trophy for long serving manager David Moyes

Champions League Real Madrid Only two have the last twenty two finalists have come from outside Italy England Germany or Spain if anything UEFA's flagship tournament is even more of a closed shop than the top of the Premier League. Particularly as the competition is structured in a way that benefits European football's elite. It is difficult to look beyond the two giants of Spanish football and frankly there is very little to chose between them I flipped a coin and Jose won. The rise of the Arab backed Man City or PSG might upset the ruling elite but both clubs might have to overcome tough opening groups due to their limited success in UEFA competitions in recent times.

Europa League Napoli  Given the relative strength of the Premier League it is surprising English Clubs  have not done better in the competition since it went to the current league format only Fulham have managed to win through to the final.I believe the leading teams do not take it seriously because they do not want jeopardise qualification to the much more lucrative Champions League and some of the lesser teams that have qualified have been strong enough or lacked experience against European opposition to make much headway. Newcastle might buck the trend but I think the winners will probably come from a country such as Spain or Italy where domestic competition is a little less intense than the Premier League and I will go with Napoli who looked impressive in last year's Champions League.

Relegation Southampton Wigan & Stoke In truth I think any 3 teams from 10 could go down and at least one will probably be relegated mainly because they are a little bit unlucky with injuries to key players at key times. My picks are Southampton because I think they are weakest of the promoted teams, Wigan because they cannot defy gravity indefinitely and Stoke because I do not think all is well at the Britannia

Champions League Qualification Man City Man United Chelsea Arsenal  The race for the Champions League qualifying spots is often closer than the title itself. I think Aresenal will be engaged in a a four way scrap for the fourth spot which could include Spurs Liverpool and Newcastle. On balance I think they will edge it but to be honest it is too close to call.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

We're Doomed

Al-Gharafa Representatives arriving at Birmingham Airport 
Yesterday's sensational news of a training ground bust up between Peter Odemwingie and new Albion boss Steve Clarke which was quickly denied by the club has been followed by a report that Qatari club Al-Gharafa have made a bid for the Nigerian International. Albion have rejected the offer.

Cue panic among the Baggies faithful at the very thought of selling our star striker. To quote our more pessimistic fans "We're Doomed" or more accurately "We're Doomed Again" because every silly season we are doomed because of what the club is doing or more often not doing in the transfer window.

Last year we signed McAuley and Jones we're doomed, sold our fifth choice centre back Ibanez on deadline day and guess what we're doomed. This year we appoint Steve Clarke we're doomed we haven't signed Ben Foster by the end of May we're doomed we might sell Odemwingie and Jonas Olsson and therefore we're doomed. 

Before we leap to the inevitable conclusion that things are about to go tits up for the Baggies I think we need to give those running the club a little bit of credit and not just assume the worse. By and large across the last three seasons the club has got most of the big decisions right. The last time we got something badly wrong was the Mowbray Premier League season and that prompted a rethink in our strategy with regard wages which has proved to be correct.

There is no doubt that both Olsson and Odemwingie have played big parts in the teams's success over the last two years however neither is irreplaceable. It is easy to forget that both arrived at the club without great fanfare and for relatively modest fees. 

From a contractual perspective Olsson's situation is the more pressing and if as seems likely he does not sign an extension to his current deal a decision needs to be made sooner rather than latter. It could be argued that keeping him for the last year of his contract might be more worthwhile than any fee we would receive.  Personally I am not sure keeping a player in the last year of his contract is a bit of a risk for both parties and there is a fee maybe around £3m where a deal might be in everyone's best interests.

Odemwingie is a totally different proposition  he is contracted until 2014 so there is no pressing need for the club to sell and therefore can happily rebuff Al-Gharafa's approaches. The question then arises does the player want to leave? It rather depends on how much he likes money. Put simply even if the Qatari's only matched his current wages he would be a lot better off and at the age of 31 a few years tax free earnings might be very welcome. If he really wants a move he will no doubt get it by fair means or foul. Albion can only hold the line for so long and extract the maximum price and with 2 years left on the contract his market worth is now at it's peak.       

If both were to leave replacing them would be a challenge but the funds would be available to do so and replacements might not cost the earth. For instance Rosenburg who we have been linked with on a free transfer has a comparable goal scoring record to Odemwingie before he arrived at the Hawthorns. 

I personally will not be jumping on the "We're Doomed" bandwagon no matter what the outcome is.My only concern is that these saga's drag on through summer and the club bows to the inevitable right at the death leaving no time to get in the necessary replacements but to assume any replacement for either Olsson or Odemwingie will be worse is just being way too pessimistic.  

Friday, 8 June 2012

Albion Appoint a Coach to Head Coach Role Shock

Steve Clarke has been appointed as the new Head Coach at West Bromwich Albion. He has vast experience as a coach at Liverpool West Ham and Chelsea and the only thing that his CV lacks is a spell as a Head Coach. It is a long apprenticeship but Albion have decided to give him a shot at being the Head Coach.

 Given our track record of making the right appointment at the right time I feel confident that he is up to the task and will be successful. It is critical to understand that Albion are about as far removed from the old style gaffer culture as it is possible to be and what they want is is a coach to work with the First Team and get it prepared for matches to squeeze the most out our limited resources therefore the role is first and foremost about coaching and organising players. We are not looking for a D list celebrity who will front up to the media but leave the hard graft on the training ground to his legions of minions we are looking for a hands on coach and Steve Carke is just that. From that prospective it would appear to be a good match. 

The club he joins is in a good place having managed back to back mid table finishes in the Premier League after years yo-yoing between the Championship and Premier League, it is well run, financially sound, progressive and forward thinking. However West Brom are not one of English football's sleeping giants with masses of untapped potential just needing the right spark to bring it back to life. Albion are wide awake and operating pretty close to their full potential which means they are middle weights operating in an environment dominated by heavy weights. Albion might be sharper and quicker than their opponents but in terms of resources most of their competitors carry a lot more clout.

In short that is the challenge facing the new coach how can you improve a club operating at the top of it's current range? From a coaches point of view there are no easy victories. Right now being the new Villa manager is easier in the sense that the board will be happy with any improvement and the fans will love you just for not being Alex McLiesh (how long this will last is debatable but a season at least would be my guess). Whereas at the Hawthorns Clarke faces fans expectations of more of the same and if it looks like the team is falling short unfavorable comparisons will be drawn with his much loved predecessor Roy Hodgson.

The new Head Coach's immediate challenge is preparing the squad for the new season he is fortunate in one sense is that there are a number of gaps in the squad that will allow him bring in players to help him shape the squad to meet his requirements, but he has to start this process without actually having the opportunity of working with the current players. Equally there are question marks over the futures of Olsson, Morrision and if some reports are to be believed Odemwingie and Mulumbu hence the team that opens the season could look very different to the one than finished 10th last year.

Whatever the challenges faced by the Baggie's new Head Coach his appointment has not been greeted with universal delight by the club's fans who might have been carried away by various high profile names that were linked with the vacancy. Personally I do not buy the cult of the manager and therefore will remain skeptical about the impact of any appointment (both from a negative and positive perspective) certainly until we have at least half a season of games to judge how well a coach is doing at the club.

Football has never been as simple as appoint the right coach and good things happen appoint the wrong coach bad things happen. Players come and go injury loss of form and plain dumb luck all play a part but fundamentally no coach can push a club beyond the limit of its resources certainly not over an extended period of time. If you want an example of this consider Clough and Taylor's sorry sojourn at Brighton which must have be the ultimate fur coat and no knickers appointment in the history of football Clough and Taylor were the fur coat but when they turned up at Brighton found there was no money for players and those at the club were frankly rubbish even by the fairly low standards of Division 3. It did not end well.

Hopefully the club has appointed a coach who can achieve our prime target of 40 points and on going membership of English football's elite (okay we only have a bronze membership card but it is better than no card at all). However it will never be easy and the whole club needs to get behind the coach.If you want to see how badly things can go wrong when fans start to undermine a coach from the outset have a look up the road at Villa.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Dead Money Walking

Dead Money is a phrase used to describe money put into a poker tournament by players who because of their ineptitude have little or no chance of seeing their money ever again. In recent days it has struck me that there is a huge amount of  Dead Money in football. 


Consider the reported transfer of the 22 year old Gylfi Sigurdsson  recently purchased by Swansea City for £6.8m. To make the example work I need to make a few assumptions but I feel they are realistic let us assume that he has a 4 year contract and the cost of employing him is £1.5m p.a. At the end of the contract Sigurdsson at the age of 26 is a free agent and has zero residual value. Therefore over the lifetime of the contract the cost to Swansea is £12.8m or over £3.25m a year which is no small matter to a club whose income even in the Premier League will be no more than £60m p.a. 

Obviously Swansea hope that he continues to be a success and that his value grows rather than diminishes. However this only happens if Swansea can extend the contract or sell when it still has 2 years or more to run. Either the cost to Swansea grows (players only ever sign new & improved contracts) or they sell a key player and thereby diminish their chances of survival in the Premier League. The alternative is a lot worse of course, the form of last year was a flash in the pan and in 2 years time they have an expensive white elephant that they are trying to hawk round world football in a desperate attempt to get him off the wage bill and recoup even a small fraction of the transfer fee (whatever did happen to David Bentley?).

Due to the possibility of a resale the Sigurdsson transfer is not strictly dead money it is just a little bit poorly compared with the pushing up the daises money that changed hands for Peter Crouch. At the tender age of 31 he has been given a 4 year contract and had a fee of £10m. Total cost of lets say £22m and there is virtually no chance that Stoke will be seeing any of it  any time soon.

However for the true Norwegian Blue of dead football money look no further than the compensation paid to clubs for the services of Head coaches. The daddy of them all has to be Andres Villa Boas at Chelsea or better still the ill fated appointment of Alex McLeish at Villa. Both clubs sacked their managers within 12 months of appointing them  so neither could be argued to be a success. Could either club done worse than appointing a manager from the pool of unattached managers last summer? 

In a culture where head coaches have a life expectancy of less than 18 months with virtually no chance of recouping the money the compensation paid for a coach is the stiffest of stiffs in the graveyard. For those of you wondering why the Albion will not be paying £2m for Chris Hughton's services there is your answer Dead Money walking      



Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Premier League Managers as Oliver

"More you want more!" Will be the cry from Premier League boardrooms as  managers inform the owners that in order to make a serious challenge for the Title, Champions League spot, Europa League qualification, survive in the division, keep up with fierce local rivals or match his own ambition they need to invest in new players during the summer.

The owner will point to the countless millions already invested in various players some of whom spent the season on loan with Dynamo Unpronounceable with the club paying most of the wages. They will point out that in the real world there is a recession they will say that the banks are extremely reluctant to lend, attendances are down, they will plead they have families to feed and bills to pay.The manager will just look a little forlorn and say pitifully "yes I know but if only we could sign Carlos Kickaball from Athletico Paella for £10m it will transform our prospects".

The sane will just say no, or sell before you buy, this what the club can afford and no more and mean it. However there will  be those in spite of all the evidence to the contrary will buy the dream get the cheque book out and away we go for more football transfer madness.  

This summer QPR will back Hughes, Sunderland will be O'Neilled* Liverpool will have one last throw of the dice to get back in the Champions League. Chelsea's new manager will be given money to overhaul an ageing and increasingly fractious squad, the monster that is Man City will buy yet more expensive talent in pursuit of world domination and Man United will invest tens of millions to wrest the title back from City.

Amongst all the ballyhoo West Bromwich Albion will get on with their business in a quiet but effective manner. Firstly there will no marque signings i.e. a signing that announces to world we are here. It is not our style and for the most part marque signings are about the owners ego rather than a rational approach to team building. Secondly we will squeeze every ounce of value out of all our transactions, deals will not get done quickly and if deal does not get done at the right price it will not get done at all. Finally all our signings will be have been thoroughly scouted and not bought purely on the basis of one man's judgement.

Of course none of the Albion's measured approach to transfer business is a guarantee of success some signings will work better than others however the key is not to make the big expensive mistakes on the scale of Nicola Zigic or Roger Johnson. Many fans crave the big headline grabbing transfer coup and make the mistake of equating the fee paid for a player is a indication of the player's quality.Yes there is a correlation but it is not as strong as one would imagine the history of football is littered with expensive failures and inexpensive successes.

I look forward to the transfer window and the signing that a premier league team will make that will have fans and pundits scratching their heads and saying "£20 million for Jordan Henderson? Really oh well it's Kenny Dalglish so he must know what he is doing". I know that it will not be one of the Baggies deals unless we are the selling club and that is no bad thing. Let the madness commence.

*Being O'Neilled take a mid-table club like Aston Villa with a wealthy owner appoint an ambitious if somewhat overrated coach spend a lot of money on fees and wages play turgid football achieve 6th place in the premier league spend more of the owners money the following year to push for the holy grail of English football, champions league qualification achieve 6th again repeat until the money and or the owner's patience runs out  .

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Tallest Pygmy in the Village

PositionTeamPlayedGoalDifferencePoints
No Movement1Man City386489
No Movement2Man Utd385689
No Movement3Arsenal382570
No Movement4Tottenham382569
No Movement5Newcastle38565
No Movement6Chelsea381964
No Movement7Everton381056
No Movement8Liverpool38752
No Movement9Fulham38-352
No Movement10West Brom38-747
No Movement11Swansea38-747
No Movement12Norwich38-1447
No Movement13Sunderland38-145
No Movement14Stoke38-1745
No Movement15Wigan38-2043
No Movement16Aston Villa38-1638
No Movement17QPR38-2337
No Movement18Bolton38-3136
No Movement19Blackburn38-3031
No Movement20Wolves38-4225
This season saw the Baggies finish the top placed team in the West Midlands comfortably clear of relegated Wolves and the increasingly shambolic Villa.  You have to be quite old to remember the last time we achieved this distinction it was back in 1978/79 over 30 years ago. During the intervening years we have often been ahead of the Wolves but never been able to finish higher than arch Birmingham rivals Villa and for many of those years we were quite literally not in the same league. As recently 2008/2009 I was beginning to think we would never beat the Villa yet alone finish above them sometimes we might join them in the Premier League but with Martin O'Neil in charge and being bankrolled by Randy Lerner's millions it looked like Villa were on the verge of gatecrashing the elite of English football and leaving their local rivals trailing in their wake.

Things changed last season we beat the Villa for the first time in ages and the post O'Neil decline has been spectacular. Crippled with debt and an owner who has turned off the financial succour which kept Villa top of the pile. To compound their problems Lerner made a disastrous management appointment in Alex McLeish which not only generated fan discontent but also led to a flirtation with relegation.

Wolves are in some ways stronger in that they are financially sound however a combination of mismanagement and poor performances from key players led to their relegation. They will regroup in the Championship under Stale Solbakken who will be under intense pressure to achieve a speedy return. Steve Morgan has invested heavily in the club and the cost base is a premier league one even if the team isn't.

Wolves join Birmingham City in the championship. Not long ago fueled by Carson Yueng's money Birmingham looked like they would be the challengers to Villa for supremency in the West Midlands however their star faded faster than you can say "lets sign Nicola Zigic".

When we were not top of the heap many an envious glance was cast particularly at Wolves and Birmingham.  Some fans saw the headline grabbing purchases of Roger Johnson, Scott Dann, Kevin Doyle, Jamie O'Hara and Nicola Zigic and asked the question why not us? In short we could afford neither the wages nor the fees. In fact neither could the Blues whose current position off the pitch is grave.

We now find ourselves at the apex of West Midlands football at the point when it is at a nadir. Blues and Wolves are licking their wounds in the Championship and Aston Villa are a mess. I do not want to decry the club's achievements and for a us a top 10 finish represents real progress but let us not get ahead of ourselves.Finishing above two poor teams is a bit like being the tallest pygmy in the village. Being ahead of Stoke and Sunderland feels like an achievement doing so again next year will ensure a solid mid table position finishing ahead of Villa might mean we are relegated in 18th.